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<<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    VENETIAN SPLENDOUR


Trevor Pinnock's pointed projection of two harpsichord solos by Giovanni Pichi realised the contrapuntal Pass'e mezzo with remarkable resonance and clarity, and the dance-like Ballo all Polacha, and then directed the English Concert in a moving account of Marini's Passacaglio, with every ounce of expressive nuance, particularly in the chromatic inflection of the bass theme. Two more Monteverdi madrigals concluded the first half, Chiome D'oro from Book VII , one of the lollipops of the repertoire, in which tripping ritornelli for two violins, eloquently embellished by Walter Reiter and Catherine Martin, contrasted with lithe shading of the two tenors' verses. And in Lammento della ninfa, also from Book VIII, Carolyn Sampson's freshly attractive soprano conveyed the suffering of the love-lorn nymph in caressing phrases against the chromatic inflected refrain for the male voices which frame the monologue.

A brittle, robust account of Marini's 'Balletto Secondo', op.22, with subtle imitative textures and a very quirky final harmonic progression, offered a preamble to the concert's climax: a riveting performance of Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, in which all three soloists, Paul Agnew, Richard Edgar-Wilson and Carolyn Sampson excelled. Here was a memorable performance rife with tension and passion, the erotic imagery of the battle conveyed in vivid word painting, the protagonists' 'heavy treads' as they approach one another, the 'stile concitato' of the battle itself, the poignant pauses as the fighters rest before starting again. Paul Agnew as narrator took lion's share of the expressive monody, beautifully eloquent stylised decorations and supply paced tempo changes creating a wonderfully rich expressive canvas.

Carolyn Sampson brought a gentle intensity to her final, prayer-like arioso Amico hai vinto and her angelic, dying, valediction S'apre il ciel' io vado in pace. It is that expressive quality, a relatively recent ingredient in 'early music' interpretation, which lends the style such power and may account for its popularity. Certainly the sheer immediacy of Monteverdi's language, as Trevor Pinnock observed, still speaks to us with contemporary directness as it did to listeners four centuries ago, and was here conveyed in a performance of exemplary taste and conviction.

Copyright © 13 January 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK




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